Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Reflections on working with Arc Publications

Publishing poetry in translation is something of a niche business, but it is a niche that Arc Publications has successfully made its own. I was fortunate enough to be offered an internship with Arc for the duration of my MA, and it has provided me with a fascinating insight into the process of editing and publishing translations of poetry.

Under the supervision of UEA’s very own Jean Boase-Beier, editor of the Arc Visible Poets series, I learned about how submissions are received, how decisions are made, and how some authors and translators are more amenable than others to suggestions for cuts and alterations
The Visible Poets series prints the original text and the translation on facing pages; visibility belongs to both translator and original poet. This allows the reader to get a sense of what the translator has done – even if s/he has no knowledge of the source language, s/he can still see how it looks on the page.
Arc’s understanding of and sensitivity to translation means that just as much importance is placed on the quality of the translation as on the original poetry. I saw submissions turned down because the translation was not bold enough – there is no place here for the age-old image of the translator as self-effacing plodder.
My introduction to the editing process began at the beginning, with some examples of what a proposal looks like, and also a couple of examples of how not to do it…

Allow me to generously pass on a few useful tips: look carefully at the website to make sure you are sending your proposal to the right person; don’t send a ready-made book of your translations of your own poetry; and in this particular case, take the time to find out that Jean Boase-Beier is not to be addressed as ‘Sir’.
These key tenets established, we moved on to the more difficult decisions. It will come as a surprise to none of you that publishing poetry in translation is not terribly lucrative; Arc, like many small publishers, relies on outside funding in order to pursue many of its projects. As such, it cannot take on all the excellent submissions it receives (although having funding will not be enough to get your proposal accepted if the translation is not up to scratch!). The word that came up again and again was ‘outstanding’. We were looking for something that really leapt off the page. There is, of course, no formula for this; it might be a distinctive voice, dexterity with the intricacies of language, or a dazzling solution to rendering wordplay and ambiguity. It was very exciting to be consulted on these matters, and made me think hard about what it is that makes an outstanding translation, as opposed to a merely competent one.

Another tricky issue to negotiate once a proposal has been accepted is ensuring the book makes a coherent, appealing whole. Cuts are often necessary, either because there is simply too much material, or because the book would be unbalanced. Once again, both original poem and translation have to be taken into account. A suitable title also has to be chosen – one which reflects the content as well as sounding like something people will want to read. It should not, however, sound like an existing work they have gone to considerable effort to avoid: following consultation, a forthcoming Arc book has been renamed and will not be published under the title Twilight.

Although my internship with Jean took place at UEA, I did make one trip up to Arc HQ in Todmorden to see an independent publisher in its natural habitat. I also attended several editorial meetings in Norwich, where we discussed the status of all ongoing projects, from Tamil to Finnish, and I got rather overexcited at the mention of some very well-known figures who might write an introduction for one of Arc’s forthcoming titles. Working with Arc has been a truly rewarding and exciting experience, and I am grateful to Angela, Tony and Jean for the opportunity. I am now looking forward to seeing the final published versions of some of the books I saw in manuscript form. Look out for forthcoming translations from German, Russian and Old Norse, among others, in the Visible Poets and the Classics series.

Find out more about Arc at

Livvy Hanks translates from French to English, with a particular interest in poetry. She can be contacted at

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Necessity is the Mother of In(ter)vention

The Irish have a reputation for being inventive users of invective – I should know, I am Irish and have spent most of my adult life so far in Dublin city, hearing the language of the street and the pub. There’s the classic long word bisected with a curse in the middle; abso-xxxx-lutely, the mixing of vulgar language and profanity; ah for Jaysus’ sake! My personal favourite is the former, it feels like language taken to its absurd yet logical conclusion. However, all this was taken away from me as a translator, when I began my dissertation recently.

I decided to see what would happen if I translated a text in French into English, but English of a certain flavour. Hiberno-English is spoken in Ireland, and glories in the turns of phrase I have just mentioned as well as many others, according to the region. My idea was to show that a quite specific kind, or variety of English can be just as expressive as any other. More importantly, I wanted to show that specific varieties of language can express big, important emotions and concepts as easily as a more standardised kind, (like the one you might read in a newspaper, or a literary novel).

The text I am translating is a short story by the Moroccan writer and novelist Fouad Laroui. It is an extended conversation between friends on the terrace of a café, during which ne character recounts a dramatic, often funny story about their city, El-Jadida. It is satirical and hilarious, pointed but subtle. Best of all, it reminded me of the conversations I would often hear on the bus, or at the next table at a Dublin café. This gave me a sort of model, a delineation for the kind of Hiberno-English I would employ. But the fact remained that nobody in the story really swears. Once or twice, this is suggested, and there are plenty of opportunities for the less than polite use of language in the friendly, yet combative discussions and teasing the story contains. As for blasphemy, it wasn’t even an issue.
The important thing to remember about translation, and this is especially obvious in literary translation, that it’s not just the words and the plot that have to be read again in the new language, it’s also aspects of culture. They affect both source and target text at every level; what characters assume to be normal, or good, or funny; the aspects of daily life which the author needs to explain to the readers and those things which are ‘obvious’. In seeking to help my readers in translation know Laroui’s characters better, am I inadvertently distorting them?

My solution was to let loose Dublin speech in the story and to employ just as much hyperbole and storytelling as in the source text. I did introduce one or two words which don’t exist in other Englishes, but the point was to be inventive. Without the blasphemous, curse-heavy aspect of Hiberno-English to fall back on, I had to engage more with the source text, play with sentence structure and make it funny without being rude. In my opinion, my story is the better for it. And, thank Jaysus, I have not misrepresented the characters, or at least done my very best not to.

Anna Bryant is completing her MA in Literary Translation at UEA, and hoping to start translating in the real world soon. She works from French and Irish to English and likes short and long form fiction. She is contactable at

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Defining the Role of the Translator: my year on the MA in Literary Translation

Looking back at my work from the MA in Literary Translation, it has been the role of the reader and of the author that has continued to shape my idea of what it means to translate. To what extent is an author responsible for their work? And how does this influence the process of translation? To what extent is any reading of a text possible? And how does this affect my role as a translator? These are the ideas which have and continue to excite me.
During the first semester I focused on the translation of landscape within Anton Chekhov’s short stories. Through this work I discovered that a text, in itself, creates the potential for profound effects on the reader, something which I argue is similar to standing in a landscape; the topography, colours and situation all create a potential to illicit certain responses from the reader. My main focus therefore remained on the text itself, in considering, as Umberto Eco puts it, its ‘maze-like structure’, and therefore my aim as a translator was to recreate this particular structure in order to retain the same potential for effects.
During the second semester I translated a children’s story that was written in Russia during the Stalinist period. I found the translation of this particular children’s story to be extremely complex, as the role of the reader (a child) and of the author (someone bound by law to write for the purposes of communism) were closely bound by an ideology that differed drastically from the prevailing ideology of the culture into which I was translating the text; my focus was consequently shifted to the reader, making sure that the subversive elements, already present in the text, were visible in the translation. During this semester I also translated a selection of microfiction by the Russian writer Daniil Kharms. I began the project by reading the author’s notebooks alongside his microfiction, but soon discovered that the voices within these texts were indistinguishable; the voice in the notebooks was no closer to Daniil Kharms, as a once real, living person, than the voice in his microfiction. This project transformed the way in which I approach translation, decentring the role of the author, and thereby freeing up my role as a translator; emphasis was on the text, and my reading of it.
Finally, my last project on this course focuses on the translation of three short stories by the Russian writer Tatyana Tolstaya, and in particular on the notion of ‘mind style’; a notion which suggests that systematic linguistic choices reflect the workings of an individual mind. Through this research I have come to understand the author within the text is a hazy spectral figure created through concrete elements of the text, something neither completely dead nor completely alive; something which has the ability to shift and change, but which nevertheless has a felt presence, allowing the text to work as an organic whole. I have so far concluded that because a work of literature is both a concrete text which has been organised by an individual mind, and because it requires a reading in order for it to have any meaning, a translation is always inevitably both an individual reading and a recreation of the work as constructed by an author; a translator, in other words, is always to a greater or lesser degree, a collaborator; neither working alone, nor at the mercy of authorial intention.

Hannah Collins studied Russian and French at the University of Nottingham. She works as a freelance translator and is currently studying on the Literary Translation MA at the UEA. Her email address is

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Trying to Become a Translator

At the beginning of the year I asked one of the PhD students about the reputations of the various creative writing courses. He had something to say about the prose students, the poetry students and then stopped. ‘What about the translation students?’ I asked – ‘Oh, we’re invisible’.

I did not realize at the time how deep his comment went. From neglect in the publishing world to second class literary status in the narrow minds of few, translation has a tough living all around. But while I could not do much in a global sense, I made every attempt to bring literary translation to the public. As part of my internship with the British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT) I led an international literature reading group at the Norwich Forum public library. The meetings to talking about world literature in translation were an opportune time to share what I learned in translation courses with the general public. And in return I received insight into actual readers of translated literature. What a translation should sound like, look like, read like was challenged on both sides of me—on the one side theory from academia, on the other side an appreciation for unobstructed literature written in English. Even now I try to keep the two sides in mind when I translate.

Of equal but very different value to me was the MA reading series I founded and hosted at two venues in Norwich. The free events were an excuse to get people together from different UEA MA creative writing courses: prose, poetry, nonfiction, literary translation and scriptwriting (though no scriptwriters participated this year). At these events the five or six readers, who would consist of writers from the various MA courses, would read about ten minutes of their work, followed by mingling. People seemed to enjoy the readings, which included joke means of introducing the readers such as horoscopes and fake biographies. In the spirit of keeping the final reading lively and anything but a reading, I staged a ‘performance piece’ in the style of American comedian, Eric Andre, wherein I destroyed the setting of the show to jazz music (

While some of this may indeed have chipped the status of literary translators in the community, it was all meant in good fun and aimed at making literary translators and literary translation memorable to others. For that reason I also aimed to include literary translators, my course-mates, in as many of the readings as possible, despite being the smallest group in numbers. The motivation behind these things, but in no way responsible for them, was Daniel Hahn’s differentiation between translating—doing the work of translation—and being a translator, spreading the word about translation as well as translating. It means promoting the work of translators and translation as a whole concept in the community here and abroad. While I could only work in Norwich, I think I did something right. After my antics, I read a poem I am currently translating for my dissertation; and despite my heavy breathing, bleeding and general disorientation after the introduction, two people contacted me about seeing the poem again with the originals. Not only did my translation piques peoples’ interest, but it put more translations in more hands (or ears), which is the goal of every translator.

Cole Konopka was born in 1988. He is a freelance English-German translator, writer and painter ( You can contact him at:

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

What is Translation, Then?

Onement VI (Barnett Newman, 1953)

On 14th May 2013, this work of art was sold for 44 million dollars. The people of the Internet reacted as expected (see 44 million dollars for a blue canvas with a white line in the middle? Is that art? Why? What is art?

Like art, translation is very hard – if not impossible – to define. Many have tried; many have failed. Most resort to the use of metaphors in order to express the ineffable, as metaphors supply what language itself cannot provide (Dann, 2002: 2).

One of the most famous is the metaphor of translation as a beautiful and unfaithful woman (D’Ablancourt, quoted in Hurtado Albir, 1990: 231), but the world of Translation Studies (and literature) is full of other examples. I would like to quote Nabokov (cited by Bollettieri Bosinelli, 2003: 47), who wrote:

What is translation? On a platter
a poet’s pale and glaring head.
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
and a profanation of the dead.

Scholars have also tried to offer a proper definition, or at least to express the need of a definition or sets of definitions. Many other questions have been proposed in order to be able to answer the main one: ‘what is translation?’

Is translation a matter of...

source and target text?
author and reader?
fidelity and originality?
foreignisation and domestication?

Is a translator a reader or a writer?

There is an evident recurring theme, here. Aren’t these spectra of choices? Two distinct ends and the whole world in the middle. Is translation a matter of choices, then?

I would say yes.

A translator might choose a text to translate in which language. Or might be given a text which has been chosen by somebody else. The translator chooses to translate almost literally or to be creative and make bolder stylistic choices. When it comes to individual ‘translation issues’ (e.g. the translation of names, of neologisms, of metaphors, of culture-bound words...), he or she might choose literal translation over dynamic equivalence or vice versa, or even adapt his or her choices to the individual instances.

In this way, a translated text looks like a finished painting for which the painter has strived to find the perfect combination of materials, tools and colours according to his or her own personal view on art. Should I use watercolours or oil paint? What shade of green should I use to paint this detail? Which size of brush for that section?

Translation is a matter of choices, which vary from the very small detail of choosing a word instead of another, to the definition of translation itself. As a matter of fact, I believe that a translator is entitled and heartily recommended to choose his or her own definition of translation.
After this MA programme in Literary Translation, I have now clearer ideas on what I think translation is for me. I have tried to formulate my own definition of translation, not because the one I had already read and heard were incomplete or not right, but simply because I felt the need to find a definition which could lead to a general approach, which in turn would lead to the individual choices.

For Elena Traina, 24 years old, musician, writer and translator, translation is experiencing and sharing a literary aleph with someone else in another language. Borges explains the fictional concept of aleph as “one of the points in space containing all points” (Borges, 1968: 146). A text, as a literary aleph, places itself in the space of literature, surrounded by the infinite possibilities, the infinite connections between me, Elena Traina, and the text. Literary allusions, echoes and legacies. But this is just my view on translation.

I wonder what Cole Konopka, American writer and translator, would say about it. Or Livvy Hanks, English translator and editor.

I do not think the world of Translation Studies needs a single, unifying definition of what translation is. Looking for my own definition of translation, instead, is a step I am glad I have taken, and that I highly recommend to my peers, for it has opened doors I did not even know were there.

Works cited:

Hurtado Albir, A. (1990). La notion de fidélité en traduction. Paris: Didier Érudition  

Dann, G. M. S. (2002). The Tourist as a Metaphor of the Social World. Wallingford: CABI

Bollettieri Bosinelli, A. M. (2003). “From Translation Issues to Metaphors of Translations”. In James Joyce Quarterly. Vol. 41, No 1/2. Tulsa: University of Tulsa

My name is Elena Traina, I graduated in Lingue e Letterature Straniere at the Università degli Studi di Milano, now I’m studying Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia. I translate from English and Spanish into Italian. My main literary interest is children’s literature, but I also like to write and translate poetry and short fiction. I can be reached at

If you are interested in the MA in Literary Translation, or would like to study at UEA, I also recommend that you take a look at my Italian blog:

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Translating the Language of Love

You might be forgiven that the title of this post refers to the cliché of how Anglophones often view French, the language from which I translate. And in the end the basis of that cliché may become clear. But what I am talking about is representations in literature of what lovers say to each other, how we describe feelings of love and how this is translated. Since this is an enormous subject, and, let’s face it, found in millions of works of literature across time and space, I’ll concentrate on one example I have found interesting, in the hopes that you will too. I made this translation myself, and directly encountered the occasionally cringe-inducing cultural differences which stand in the way of a text making its true declaration of/about love.  

The short comic by Charline Colette, L’Amour. . . Ça Gratte!1 or Love is Itchy! is a fascinating example of the ironic and playful use of love clichés. A little girl called Chouki finds a caterpillar in the school yard, names it Camille and rubs it against her cheek affectionately. Unfortunately, her older sister notices that Camille is an urticating caterpillar, which stings when touched or disturbed. Chouki is distraught and itchy and must leave Camille forever. However, she soon finds happiness with a nearby hedgehog.

When thinking about how I might translate this pretty simple, gently humourous comic, the way Chouki talks to Camille the Caterpillar proved a subtle challenge. She calls the caterpillar “Ma douce”(my sweet), and is told later by her sister that “Mais il va falloir t’en separer” (But you will have to separate from it). It felt as if the mixing of phrases usually used between lovers with those used between children playing at mothers and babies was what made the comic so charming and funny. To express something of this atmosphere of first love, I used a similar strategy, but had to adapt. The difficulties of translating for or about children are well documented2 but my feeling was that Anglophone children express different attitudes towards the aforementioned language of love. In my translation, when Chouki cuddles the caterpillar, she says “Little cutie” and when her older sister has to say that most difficult of things, it turns into “But you know you can’t bring her home”, which blurs the line somewhat between the ironizing of the language of adult relationships and the reality of the situation, without making the former uncomfortably overt. I found myself considering and then rejecting options involving friendship or maternal play as appropriate but missing the point.

The double meaning of the title is clear and adds a mischievous edge to the whole story. The truth is, it is no less subtle in French than it is in English, but could be differently received according to cultural differences. Due to the importance of the title to the humour in the story and even the idea of an older sister passing on important information to a younger sister, I did not make any change to it (well, apart from translating it!). Lastly, and very importantly, I tried to translate in a style that suited the pictures. The interplay between words and pictures in a comic gives very specific information about character and the world of the comic. The speech in this comic needed to make sense, correspond with existing pictures. I hope that in my translation Chouki is still innocent and very affectionate, and that her sister is exasperated, yet kind.



1 Colette, C. (2014) L’Amour . . .Ca Gratte!

2 See Oittinen, R. (2000) Translating for Children, Oxford: Taylor and Francis.



Anna Bryant is from County Meath, Ireland. She translates from French into English, and also occasionally from Irish. She is currently enjoying studying on the MA in Literary Translation course at the University of East Anglia and can be contacted at

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Theatre Translation and the Suspension of Disbelief

All theatre requires us to suspend our disbelief. If we didn’t, we would be forever asking questions like: “How is it tomorrow already?” and “Why did these people come here to have their argument, in front of loads of spectators?” We accept these dramatic conventions; they do not trouble us when we watch a play.

Translated drama – or any drama that is set in a country with a different language from the language of the play – requires an additional suspension of disbelief, if we are not to ask:

“Why are all these Frenchmen speaking English?”


Our unquestioning acceptance of this situation is partly to do with ‘transparent’ language. When people speak the same way we do, we don’t tend to analyse their forms of speech. When they speak differently, we notice. When characters in a Shakespeare play speak in Elizabethan English, we accept it because it conforms to what we know about when the play was written and when it is set. If characters in a David Hare play started throwing I-do-beseech-thees into conversation, we’d be puzzled (and if they talked about ‘maidenhead’, we’d assume the play was set in Berkshire).

This leaves the translator with two potential problems: time and place. If s/he is translating a 17th-century play, what kind of language should s/he use? Shakespeare’s? Difficult to master, and would sound like pastiche. Today’s? Probably easier for the audience to accept, but they might get upset if there are knights and ladies going round saying “OK” and “awesome”. Most theatre translators end up opting for as neutral an idiom as they can manage (modern-ish but avoiding any expressions that too obviously come from the last twenty years or so), which makes the play more acceptable to the audience’s ears, but does run the risk of losing some of the colour of the original.

Translators of contemporary drama are not saved from these dilemmas. If I am translating a play set in northern France, and it is an important fact about the play that one of the characters comes from Marseille, how do I translate her/his accent? I can’t just arbitrarily make her/him a Scot. The introduction of dialect is the point at which an English audience might well start thinking, not “Why is this Frenchman speaking English?” but

“Why is this Frenchman speaking with a Scottish accent?”

Bill Findlay (2006) has written, referring to his experiences translating a Goldoni play into Scots dialect, that the translator runs the risk of using a kind of invented “Costume Scots”. Since Scots as a full language was dying out by the 18th century, when Goldoni was writing (in Venetian), a ‘matching’ contemporary idiom is hard to find. For Findlay, this was made easier by choosing a play with a “narrow social and linguistic focus” (2006: 53) – a broader range of social classes would have been harder to render in Scots.

Findlay’s translation retained the original setting, whereas other modern Scots translations have tended to translocate the play to Scotland. (Findlay 2006: 54) Translocation makes the language consistent with the setting, but creates a whole new set of problems: can one milieu really be equivalent to another? Is the play’s message the same if it is set in Northern Ireland rather than the Spanish Civil War? And is this still a translation?

The question of translocation arises during almost any drama translation process, since there will invariably be elements that suggest a certain location. Should names be translated? English names will be easier to say on stage. But if my characters are now called Peter and Millie rather than Pierre and Amélie, what are they doing in Paris? Wholesale translocation requires a great deal of thought, about the setting but also the events of the play and the characters – are they all compatible with the new location? Partial translocation, where, for example, names are translated and cultural markers such as food removed or changed, without explicitly moving the action elsewhere, requires a further extension of the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Part of the difficulty comes from the tendency to ‘domesticate’ in English translation – that is, to force the text to fit into the English language and context, rather than extending the English language to meet the demands of the text. We have grown used to a very English Chekhov, for instance, and tend to think of him almost as one of our own. Translocation is therefore tempting, as a way of making the play seem more relevant and immediately acceptable to an English audience; but it is only by maintaining the ‘foreignness’ of a play that translation can really extend and enrich the English drama.


Findlay, B. (2006) ‘Motivation in a Surrogate Translation of Goldoni’, in Bassnett, S. and Bush, P., The Translator as Writer. London: Continuum, 46-57.


Livvy Hanks translates from French to English. She is currently translating a poem every day, and blogging about the experience, at

She can be contacted at

Saturday, 19 April 2014


MALT student Livvy Hanks is currently translating (at least part of) a poem every day, and blogging about it, in her own twist on 'National Poetry Writing Month'. Check it out!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Comics Translation and Zombies: Uncomfortable Issues

I’ve known people who read and love comics, but I have never been into any comics myself. It was simply a lack of exposure, I think, because I’ve come to respect and appreciate the art form ever since I’ve been exposed to it in Case Studies this semester. Yes, like painting, sculpture, graphic design and all the rest, comics are a form, a way of presenting art. But it is also a form of writing, of literary and narrative effort. Since reading McCloud’s (2006) book Making Comics and making myself break the threshold of comics with an issue of Fables, I appreciate comics and see their entertainment value, but more importantly their readability—their multiple layers of characters, narratives and themes. I did not particularly like Fables itself, but I could see how complex comics could be. I learned how enjoyable they can be to read, though I admit I read quickly through the text and overlooked much of the art. I think comics, like drama, straddle different art forms, and like zombies which are both living and dead, indefinable forms are often difficult to accept. (Appropriately enough: The Walking Dead) It is difficult to read them, at least I found it so, because a person reads differently than he or she looks at art. Art you look at as a whole then read in parts; literature you read then look at as a whole (see Ernest Gilman, The Curious Perspective, (1978)).

I think people who don’t like comics have not found the right comic yet. I say the same thing of poetry. I haven’t found the right comic for me yet. I admit I haven’t started reading comics, but I do search for them. I think I have a difficult time, because my narrative style and artistic style are at odds. My literary tastes are in realism, or at furthest magical realism; my art tastes lean toward the abstract. A gap has not been bridged thus far, but I will find a comic some day. Recommendations welcomed. But it does take both to appeal to someone, both an appealing narrative or literary side and inviting artwork. That is the risk of such an art form. With the freedom to display your ideas pictorially comes the responsibility of displaying your ideas pictorially in addition to text. But the rewards, as I have heard from friends, are highly worth it.

In my experience attempting to translate for comics, I found brevity the most difficult issue. I constantly overwrote in German, and I doubt my translation would have been accepted anywhere for publication due to its length. It would not have fit in the speech bubbles. Translating for comics takes a similar, though certainly more extreme, amount of brevity as subtitling. Both are limited in space, but if the subtitle is a tweet of 140 characters, the speech bubble is half a haiku. Space is at a premium.

Cole Konopka is a translator of German to English, a writer, painter. He can be contacted at


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Translating Arkady Gaidar’s The Blue Cup: the complex nature of children’s literature

For the past few weeks, I have been absorbed in the translation of children’s literature. Before looking into this area of translation, I wouldn’t necessarily have expected it to be easy to translate children’s literature, as any literary text will pose its own particular set of problems, but I certainly hadn’t expected it to be one of the most challenging and complicated areas of translation.  

First of all, defining what does and doesn’t constitute children’s literature is problematic; should we define it as literature that has been written for children? Or as works of literature that children choose to read for themselves? What is a child? Can we come to a complete definition of a child, and therefore firmly conclude what children’s requirements are with regards to literature? Furthermore, when we translate cross-culturally, what may be considered appropriate for children in one culture may not be considered appropriate for children in another, how can translators deal with such instances, while avoiding the manipulation of their readers?

I have been working on a translation of The Blue Cup by Arkady Gaidar, a children’s story written in Soviet Russia.  Many aspects of the text have been heavily influenced by the Socialist Realist doctrine of the time; it presents the reader with idealisations of work, industrialization, the Russian countryside and of the Red Army, for example, and some could consider such a text unworthy of translation into English for Western children, as the underlying ideology of such a text is not fully convergent with the ideology of Western culture, and may therefore be considered harmful and manipulative.

However, what prompted me to translate this particular text is its fragmentary nature; despite being heavily influenced by the ideology of its time, this text is predominantly subversive and, I would therefore argue, valuable for children. The Blue Cup is a story about a Russian family (a mother, father and daughter) on holiday at a cabin in the countryside. The mother takes to nagging the father and daughter (Svetlana) about all kinds of chores, not allowing them to play and enjoy themselves whilst on holiday.  The final straw comes when she accuses them of breaking her blue cup and in an act of defiance they decide to leave for an adventure across the Russian countryside. It is through Svetlana and her father’s close relationship that this text comes to be subversive, as the father introduces Svetlana to the emotional complexities of the adult world; through allowing his daughter to come into contact with a variety of people and discussing issues such as war and anti-Semitism, and by confiding in her his doubts with regards to the mother’s love for him. Furthermore, and most importantly, in their defiance of the mother, the father teaches Svetlana to challenge over-bearing authority.  In these instances I therefore paid particular attention to the nuances of the language used by Svetlana and her father when addressing each other.

It was extremely difficult to decide how to deal with aspects of the text that were conventional for its time, as children would not be aware of the socio-historical context and could consequently be open to manipulation; I had therefore considered changing or even removing some aspects of the text. However, I have come to the conclusion that it would be short-sighted to alter or remove these aspects. Precisely because Western children will lack the socio-historical context that would allow these images to be understood as part of a certain ideology, these idealisations will be no more harmful than the idealisations of work and the British countryside in children’s stories such as Thomas the Tank Engine or Postman Pat. Furthermore the underlying ideology will not be consistently supported by surrounding discourse; and therefore these depictions will do little more than allow children to come into contact with ‘the foreign’, displacing them for a short time from their own culture. I have come to believe that translating a variety of children’s literature is therefore necessary and vital to encourage a multiplicity of world views within children, and not to simply limit them to the confines of their own.


Hannah Collins studied Russian and French at the University of Nottingham. She works as a freelance translator and is currently studying on the Literary Translation MA at the UEA. Her email address is

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Call for Papers

The Norwich Papers editorial team is pleased to announce its call for papers for Issue 22, to be published in 2014. The theme of the issue is ‘Voice and Silence in Translation’. We welcome articles from anyone with an interest in the topic, regardless of experience, and are looking for a broad range of contributions covering a variety of languages and cultures and engaging with the many possible interpretations of this theme. Possible topics could include, but are by no means limited to:


  • The individual voice of the translator
  • What is left unsaid or implicit in translation
  • Translation and censorship
  • Particular issues in the translation of texts intended to be read aloud
  • Heteroglossia in translated texts


These are only a few suggestions – there are many other possible approaches, so we hope the theme will inspire you in some way! Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any queries.


Articles should be 4000-5000 words in length and must be written in English. Submissions should be received no later than Wednesday 30th April 2014. We will send a free copy of Issue 22 to all whose contributions we are able to publish.


Please submit papers to


You can find more details about our back issues and how to purchase them on our website. We look forward to receiving your contributions.



Submission details


Please submit papers to


Deadline for submissions: Wednesday 30th April 2014

Format: Word document (preferred) or Rich Text Format (.rtf). Please follow the Harvard style of referencing (also known as the ‘author, date’ system), for which guidelines can be found here.

Articles should be 4000-5000 words in length and must be written in English.



Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Che gelida manina! – baby-talk in translating Where the Wild Things Are

It’s a Saturday night and I have decided to translate Where the Wild Things Are. Sometimes people debate on which books can be considered classics in children’s literature, but about Sendak’s masterpiece there’s absolutely no doubt. And this is the reason why I wanted to translate it on the first place. It’s no secret that I aspire to combine translation with my other great ambition to become a writer, and translating classics for children is my starting point.

What interests me the most are not only the reasons why some children’s books become classics (oh, the list is long…) but also the way authors use words and language. I have a passion for words that words alone cannot describe. Let me put it this way. You know the old ice-breaking game “what would you bring with you to a desert island?”… I would bring a dictionary. Preferably one with synonyms, etymology and collocations. I am mad for words. Give me neologisms to translate, and I will be the happiest translator on Earth.

I approached my first draft of Là dove stanno le cose selvagge with certain boldness. While I was working on it, I had that feeling only translators know: this is the right direction. I was happy with many of the choices I made, every sentence seemed to fit like a glove, but. But.

At some point, I realised that there was something that sounded wrong, almost out of key. I read and re-read my translation, looking for unconvincing verb tenses, superfluous possessives, well-conceived grammatical discrepancies. What was it? What is it that sounds so wrong?

Ohhh. Got it.

The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth

and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws

but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye […]


Le cose selvagge ruggirono terribilmente e digrignarono i terribili denti,

e spalancarono i terribili occhi e mostrarono i terribili artigli,

ma Max salì sulla sua barca e fece ciao con la manina […]


Here’s a gloss of the last sentence, where the off-key note is.


ma Max  salì   sulla  sua  barca  e    fece  ciao  con  la   manina […]

but   Max  stepped  on-the  his     boat    and    did      bye    with   the   little-hand DIM.


La manina. The little hand. It’s back.

Don’t get me wrong, I love diminutives and all kinds of alterations. But I have become very sensitive to using them when addressing to children since I have worked for the British Council in Milan as young learners’ assistant. One of my duties was to walk my caterpillars (pre-primary school children) to the toilet during classes, and one day it happened that I asked one of them to give me their manina (little-hand). My supervisor had heard me and she kindly urged me not to use diminutives with children. After all, what from our point of view is a cute little child hand, from their point of view is… just their hand. Proportions, uh?

I had forgotten about this, but then the manina came back in my translation of Where the Wild Things Are. I did a little bit of research on the topic, and I found that the debate on what expert call “baby-talk” is lively. On one side, “baby-talk” seems to be encouraged because it bonds a strong relationship between parents and children (it is also called parentese), and because it also contributes to children’s mental development; on the other, it is strongly criticised for giving the child a limited repertoire of words, and therefore can inhibit the child’s speech development.

What should the translator do?

Personally, I’ve decided to put away the little hand. Partly because my supervisor’s argument seemed strong enough to me. Then I also thought: what if by using diminutives we contribute to build a wrong child image in children’s literature? How would an Italian child describe Max’s hand? And even if s/he said manina, how can we be sure that s/he has not been influenced by the baby-talk employed by adults that surround him?

I have no answers for these questions, not at the moment. Anyway, I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that Where the Wild Things Are is a book to be read aloud by parents to their child, and if they really want to say manina instead of mano, certainly I won’t be the one preventing them from doing that!


See also:

How can child-directed speech facilitate the acquisition of morphology?, by Vera Kempe, Patricia J. Brooks, and Laura Pirott. 2001. Research on Child Language Acquisition: Proceedings of the 8th Conference of the International Association for the Study of Child Language. 1234-1244)    


My name is Elena Traina, I graduated in Lingue e Letterature Straniere at the Università degli Studi di Milano, now I’m studying Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia. I translate from English and Spanish into Italian. My main literary interest is children’s literature, but I also like to write and translate poetry and short fiction. I can be reached at

If you are interested in the MA in Literary Translation, or would like to study at UEA, I also recommend that you take a look at my Italian blog:

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Considering Foreignization

This semester my peers and I took to holding casual workshops of one another’s work between classes. As few people shared the language of the translator whose work we were looking at, the main drive in those meetings was to try and help the translator’s work sound more fluid, more readable, more like English. It seemed like the most natural way to go about things, both because it was the only help we could offer and because, well, an English translation should read as flawless English. That was the thought.
For me this all changed after reading some of Lawrence Venuti’s work on foreignizing and domesticating translations. In his book, The Translator’s Invisibility, Venuti talks about the state of translation and the translator’s role in the print culture, and what he has to say is not very encouraging for an aspiring translator. According to Venuti, and probably many people working in translation or translation theory, translators are overlooked. I would agree with this. In a translation of Hesse’s Steppenwolf I am currently reading, there is no biography of the translator, but there is one of the cover artist. That seems imbalanced to me, though the publisher found it reasonable. More shocking was Venuti’s comments on how translators often rewrite a text in an ethnocentric fashion, making it accessible to the new readers at the expense of its cultural heritage. This in turn erases the sense of a text as a translation and imagines it as a new, original text which makes the translator an invisible entity and elevates the original author and his or her work. This can also flatten a text, smoothing out its many potential idiosyncrasies, which is a complaint in regards to poetry which I have heard among my course mates.
Venuti calls for a translation that to some degree foreignizes a text. This means including some idiosyncrasies of the original (language) as well as some of the translator’s hand. By making sure a translation reads as a translation, with some of the strangeness of a foreign language and the translator’s influence, the translator will not be so invisible and the foreign culture will not be subject to the hegemony of the English language. Or so goes the idea.
This has all given me something to think about in relation to my dissertation project, which I intend to be a translation of German poetry. By no means do I intend to write a half German translation, one abound with foreign references and my own flights of fancy. But before reading Venuti the question of translation would have been ‘how can I make this sound like good (English-language) poetry?’ Now I think the question of how to translate is a more complicated one. The first question is still relevant, but in addition to that one I must also ask ‘what marks can I leave as a translator?’ and ‘what marks of the original German should I maintain?’ Translation has always seemed like a delicate balance, but this issue of domestication and foreignization has added more weights to be allocated to just the right spots.
Cole Konopka was born in 1988. He lived, studied, and worked in Germany in 2007 as a participant of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Vocational Program. After studying English and Anthropology at the University of Iowa, Cole began his studies in literary translation at the University of East Anglia. In addition to translation, Cole also enjoys writing original works and painting.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

‘Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…’ : Prefaces and the voice of the translator

The preface is not something I had spent much time considering in my literary studies until now. In spite of a few notable exceptions (think Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads), prefaces to literary works tend to go relatively unnoticed. The important thing is ‘the words on the page’ – and pages prior to page 1 don’t count. “WE CANNOT KNOW THE AUTHOR’S INTENTIONS,” we shout, drowning out the author’s (timid or otherwise) declaration of “What I meant to say was this…”
It is true that authors do not have exclusive ownership of the meaning of their work, nor are they always best placed to comment on it. A magnificent novel might be preceded by a pretentious or less-than-insightful preface, like a once-aloof film star posting inanities on Twitter. Perhaps for good reason, then, prefaces to literary works are relatively rare today. However, there is a school of thought that says translations should be an exception to this rule.
Why, then, might a translator write a preface? It may be partly to do with the fact that we ask questions of translators that we don’t tend to ask of authors: why did you choose this text? Why doesn’t your translation of this poem rhyme? Translating poetry is impossible, isn’t it? A preface can be a way of pre-empting some of those questions; and it is hardly surprising if they sometimes come across as somewhat defensive.
We could also look at it in a more positive way: prefaces are a way for translators to explain their approach. They allow us a glimpse of the translation process. Most significantly, though, they make the translator visible. They remind the reader that the text is a translation – something which is all too easy to forget, particularly when reading fiction, where all efforts have usually been made to disguise the text’s translated nature.
Translators speak to the reader in the texts they translate, but it is only in a preface that they can speak entirely in their own voice. Prefaces can sometimes be political: for example, they have often been used by feminist translators to explain why a text by a woman writer has been neglected, or why they have adopted a ‘hijacking’ strategy, where a text that was not originally feminist is ‘appropriated’ in translation through alterations such as the introduction of gender-inclusive language.
Opponents of the translator’s preface argue that a translated text should ‘stand alone’, should speak for itself. However, this is not as straightforward as it sounds. No translation stands alone; it always bears the trace of its source. Any text is a palimpsest of influences and allusions, and is completed by a reader in a particular cultural context. It does not exist out of context. A non-translated text, however, is interpreted directly by the reader. In the case of a translation, the source text is interpreted by the translator, who then inevitably brings this interpretation to bear on his or her translation; reading translation is a more intertextual experience than reading a non-translated text.
Why, then, pretend that the need to explain is a weakness? We too often expect reading a translation to be like reading any other text; as a result, we do not want to hear the voice of the translator. Hearing that voice in a preface forces us to acknowledge the translator’s presence in the text itself; it reminds us that what we are reading is not a fixed, finite object, but is slippery, multi-layered, polyphonic.
Olivia Hanks translates from French to English, with a particular interest in poetry. She blogs about French literature at and can be contacted at

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Translation and Resistance

Translation can be a wonderful means of resistance in all sorts of ways. One of the most recent and prominent forms of resistance through translation has resulted from the issue concerning feminist punk rock group ‘Pussy Riot’. Pussy Riot staged a provocative performance of their song ‘Punk Prayer - Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!’ in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and were venomously charged and imprisoned by the Russian government for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.
Many of their speeches and court hearings have been translated, raising their profile in the West and perhaps hopefully, with the whole world watching, ensuring a certain amount of their safety in Russia. The translation of Pussy Riot has meant that both the western and Russian governments’ actions have become more visible to the general public and thus arguably, more accountable. Recently, correspondence between the only member of Pussy Riot to remain in prison, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and the famous Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, was translated into English and featured in The Guardian. Interestingly Nadezhda states:
“Here in Russia I have a strong sense of the cynicism of so-called first-world countries towards poorer nations. In my humble opinion, "developed" countries display an exaggerated loyalty towards governments that oppress their citizens and violate their rights”.
Through translation, we have an opportunity to bring such views to the world stage, and potentially as a result to constrain our own government to take action. It is important that we continue to support these brave actions and to keep them in the spotlight. It is however necessary to try to understand why Pussy Riot has become so widely recognised and someone like Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who dedicated her life to human rights and because of her actions was assassinated in her own apartment, barely acknowledged.
In ‘The Invisibility of the Translator’ Venuti criticises the idea of Simpatico; the way in which a translator may empathise with an author s/he is translating in order to ‘improve’ the translation. Venuti posits that simpatico causes the work of literature to be centred on the ‘poetic I’, he states that: “Here it becomes clear that the translator’s feeling of simpatico is no more than a projection, that the object of the translator’s identification is ultimately himself, the “private associations” he inscribes in the foreign text in the hope of producing a similarly narcissistic experience in the English language reader.” In other words, Simpatico can lead us to impose a predominantly Anglo-American style of writing onto a foreign text and to recognize ourselves within it. Simpatico will therefore also lead us to choose to translate works of foreign literature that embody this particular style.
Perhaps, then, our overwhelming recognition of Pussy Riot stems from their mode; first of all the band name ‘Pussy Riot’ is not a translation, the name was originally in English and is therefore easily recognisable for an English-speaking audience. Secondly, as a feminist punk-rock group, Pussy Riot appeals to many young individualistic adults and teenagers in the West. We may conclude then, that through translation and the close analysis it requires, we can come to recognise how we relate to other cultures, and in turn we can learn to pay attention to narratives which do not necessarily have an initial impact on us, to recognise a plurality of outlooks and world-views, rather than ones which instantly appeal to our own.
Hannah Collins studied Russian and French at the University of Nottingham. She works as a freelance translator and is currently studying on the Literary Translation MA at the UEA. Her email address is